Pranab thought he would become PM in 2012: Book

In a new revelation, former President Pranab Mukherjee says he had a “vague” feeling that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi wanted to nominate Manmohan Singh as UPA presidential candidate in 2012 and make him the Prime Minister.

In the third and final volume of his autobiography ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’ released on Friday evening, Mukherjee also says Gandhi was inclined to make him the Home Minister after Mumbai terror attacks but the then Prime Minister Singh’s advice against it led to P Chidambaram replacing Shivraj Patil.

Recalling the days of hectic negotiations ahead of 2012 Presidential polls in July, he says that Gandhi told him on 2 June 2012 that he was “eminently suited” for the top post but said he “should not forget the crucial role” he plays in the government. She asked him to “suggest a substitute” to which he told her that he have acted as per the leadership’s decision.

“The meeting ended, and I returned with a vague impression that she might wish to consider Manmohan Singh as the UPA presidential nominee. I thought that if she selected Singh for the presidential office, she may choose me as the prime minister,” Mukherjee remembers.

The next fortnight days saw hectic political negotiations and Gandhi informing him that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had suggested the names of the then Vice President Hamid Ansari and Mukherjee for the post. Banerjee then consults Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and in a surprise announcement names A P J Abdul Kalam, Singh and Somnath Chatterjee in that order as their choice.

The drama ended after a slew of meetings on 14 June 2012 and Singh informed Mukherjee about his discussions about the issue and their “joint decision” to nominate Mukherjee.

Pranab Cover

He also refers to Sharad Pawar who went to create his own party was irked with Gandhi because she relied more P Shiv Shankar on all important issues. “This sense of alienation and disenchantment may have been responsible for his statements on Sonia’s foreign origin and his subsequet exit from the party in 1999,” he adds.

Mukherjee also remembers that P Chidambaram was “stridently vocal” against Patil at a Congress Working Committee meeting, three days after the Mumbai attacks. He says he tried to bring the “sentiment down a bit”. On 1 December 2012, Singh calls him for a meeting where he was told Patil had resigned and tells him about Gandhi’s preference.

Singh said he told Gandhi he could not change Mukherjee at that time and “hence it was decided” that Chidambaram would replace Patil.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Oct 14, 2017)

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BJP leaders giving slip to Pranab book launch?

Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s third volume of autobiography will hit the stands with its launch on Friday in the presence of ‘who-is-who’ from the Opposition.

None from the ruling dispensation will be on the dais, as the invite from the publisher reads that ‘The Coalition Years: 1996-2012’ will be released in the “presence of Manmohan Singh, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul Gandhi, S Sudhakar Reddy, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Satish Chandra Mishra and M K Kanimozhi”.

Sources said Mukherjee’s office had approached some government leaders but they did not confirm their presence at the function and that was why their names did not appear on the invite.

The Coalition Years e-invite

Mukherjee, before becoming the President in July 2012, served as minister under Manmohan Singh-led Congress government while CPI(M) General Secretary Yechury was part of a number of efforts since 1996 when coalition governments were formed.

Whether it is CPI (General Secretary Reddy), Samajawadi Party (National President Yadav), BSP (General Secretary Mishra) or DMK (Kanimozhi), all these parties had played significant roles in the making and breaking of coalition governments since 1996.

The final volume of his autobiography, which comes three months after he demitted the office of President, would deal with the experiments in coalition governments . However, it would not deal with his years in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The book is likely to have inside stories of the formation of these stories and the UPA experiment, the pulls and pressures of running a coalition government and Mukherjee’s views on such dispensations.

The book will deal with the Congress’ defeat in 1996 Lok Sabha elections and the rise of regional parties like TDP and Trinamool Congress. It would also throw some light into the reveal the compelling factors that forced Congress to withdraw support to the I K Gujral government.

It will also have Mukherjee’s vivid recollection as a Union Minister in Defence, External Affairs and Finance from 2004 and details of a meeting with Henry Kissinger in 2004 that is said to have altered the course of the Indo–US strategic partnership.

The first volume ‘The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years’, which “chronicle the politically tumultuous 1970s”, was out in December 2014 while the second volume ‘The Turbulent Years’, which “opens in mid-1980s and end at 1996”, was released in January 2016.

In the book dealing with Indira Gandhi’s time, which was written while he was the President, Mukherjee had said the infamous could have been an “avoidable event” and Congress and Indira Gandhi paid a “heavy price for this “misadventure”.

The second volume tries to correct a picture of Mukherjee wanting to succeed Indira. He said in this book that he did not aspire to become interim Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination but such “false and spiteful” stories created misgivings in Rajiv Gandhi’s mind that soured their relationship.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Oct 11, 2017)

Was I responsible for 2004 debacle? Sinha has some doubts

Who was responsible for the 2004 rout of A B Vajpayee-led NDA government? Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha “sometimes” believes he was largely responsible for NDA’s electoral debacle, according to a new book.

He believes his proactive stance on economic reforms and decision to raise kerosene prices and a cut in interest rates resulting in lesser returns in provident funds among the reasons for discontentment among voters.

In the recently released ‘The Future of Indian Economy: Past Reforms and Challenges Ahead’ edited by Sinha and Vinay K Srivastava, he says politics will always dominate economics in India, at least in the foreseeable future.

“Politicians and political parties are risk averse, especially as far as elections are concerned. They would never like to put the existence of their government or their political future at stake for the sake of economic reforms. Economic growth has never been an election issue in India,” he rues in his article ‘Are Economic Reforms Accepted in India?’

It is here where Sinha says that “sometimes, I feel that I may have been largely responsible for the defeat of my party in the 2004 elections” and that he can never forget the lessons he learnt in that election.

As Finance Minister, Sinha had raised the prices of kerosene oil from Rs 2.50 to Rs 9.50. When he went campaigning in a remote village in his constituency and asked an old woman for her vote, Sinha says, an old woman held him responsible for raising kerosene prices which had made her life difficult.

“I always take credit for the fact that I had drastically reduced interest rates in the economy to spur growth by vastly reducing the cost of money. Yet, it became a major liability for me in my constituency which has a large number of coal mine workers who felt cheated because the return on their Provident Fund savings had declined. All my pleas that inflation had been moderated fell on deaf ears,” he says.

His opponents were “successful in painting” Sinha as the culprit and managed to get away with it, he says. “If I had done nothing of this sort, I surely would have been better off,” he says.

Sinha also cites the example of National Highways project, which was regarded as the high point of Vajpayee government. “…Yet you will be surprised if I told you that in the 2004 general elections, the NDA lost all the 14 seats it had won in 1998 along NH-2 which connects eastern India with north-western India,” he says.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jul 5, 2017)

Ease of Buz or Environment?

The Narendra Modi government should learn from former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who never put “ease of doing business” before protection of the environment, says former environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

Ramesh, whose latest book ‘Indira: A Life in Nature’ that talks about her love for the nature, says though leaders talk about challenges faced by environment, it is actions they take is what counts at last.

“Now they pay lip service (to environment causes). These leaders are chanting Sanskrit mantras to show their love for the nature. But they have put ease of doing business on the top than protecting environment,” Ramesh, who wants to evaluate Gandhi’s unknown aspects in her birth centenary year, told DH.

“This country cannot afford to follow a blind ‘grow now, pay later’ model,” he says in the book.

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Asked about how the Prime Minister views differ from that of Gandhi, he says Modi talks the language of environment, climate change and all.

“But it is actions that count. Every effort has been made to weaken environment laws (by this government) whether it is . He sees environment as a burden to be borne by private sector,” Ramesh says.

Ramesh, “who transformed from being a zealot for rapid economic growth at all costs” to someone who now insists that rapid growth must be anchored in ecological sustainability, says Gandhi gave political respectability to environment issues. and made it part of political and planning process.

“Whatever laws we have now on environment, it was during her time that we got it,” he says.

While describing her as an environmentalist but not an activist, he says Gandhi, whom he considers as a pioneer in the field of environment protection, knew she had to make political choices sometimes. Ramesh cites her decisions to give nod for a refinery in Mathura, 60 km from Taj Mahal and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, and not allow Silent Valley project in Kerala.

“She knew she has to make political choices. She was always aware she was Prime Minister of a poor country but she also realised we have to preserve nature. Hers was a fine balancing act. She chose a middle path,” Ramesh says.

In his book, Ramesh says, “a naturalist is who Indira Gandhi really was, who she thought she was. She got sucked into the whirlpool of politics but the real Indira Gandhi was the person who loved the mountains, cared deeply for wildlife, was

passionate about birds, stones, trees and forests, and was worried deeply about the environmental consequences of urbanization and industrialization.”

“She was singularly responsible not just for India’s best-known wildlife conservation programme—namely, Project Tiger—but also for less high-profile initiatives for the protection of crocodiles, lions, hanguls, cranes, bustards, flamingos, deer and other endangered species,” he adds.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 28, 2017)

Mahatma wanted Dalit woman as 1st Prez: Book

At a time the parties are changing their gears to choose nominees for Presidential polls, a new book says that Mahatma Gandhi wanted a Dalit woman as India’s first President but this “radical suggestion” was turned down.

The country had to wait till 1997 to get a Dalit president in K R Narayanan even as Mahatma’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, a writer and academician, reveals a couple of conversations and a speech Gandhi made in June 1947 spelling out his preference.

The book ‘Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma’s Legacy’ comes at a time when names of Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, both Dalits, are being speculated among possible candidates from BJP and opposition camps respectively.

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Gandhi’s another grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi is also being actively considered as a candidate by the opposition, which is looking at a possibility of fielding a joint nominee to take on the BJP-led NDA. He was also proposed as a Vice President candidate in 2012.

According to the book, the proposal for a Dalit as the first President was sparked off by the death of a “talented” young Dalit from Andhra Pradesh, Chakrayya, who was with Gandhi at Sevagram ashram from its inception.

Gandhi said on 2 June 1947 at the prayer meeting in memory of Chakrayya that he would have proposed his name for the top post had he been alive.

Four days later, he repeated his thoughts with Rajendra Prasad, who became the country’s first President on 26 January 1950, saying that a Dalit like Chakrayya, on whom he had “nursed high hopes”, or a Dalit girl should be made the first president.

“If I have my way, the President of the Indian Republic will be a chaste and brave Bhangi girl…If such a girl of my dreams becomes President, I shall be her servant and I shall not expect from the Government even my upkeep. I shall make Jawaharlal (Nehru), Sardar (Vallabhai) Patel and Rajendra Babu her ministers and therefore her servants,” Gandhi said later at a public address on 27 June, 1947.

However, the book says, Gandhi’s “radical suggestion of a Dalit head of state was turned down” as “Nehru, Patel and company wished” to retain Lord Mountbatten as Governor General..

“They thought the subcontinent’s princely states would be more likely to choose India over Pakistan if the King’s cousin continued as Governor General. Gandhi agreed to Mountbatten staying on, but repeated that he wanted an ‘untouchable’ to head the Indian state before long,” the book says.

The Mahatma was of the view that election of a Dalit girl would have shown to the world that in India there is no one high and no one low. “She should be chaste as Sita and her eyes should radiate light. We shall all salute her and set a new example before the world,” the book quotes Gandhi as saying.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on May 12, 2017)

DeMo will not have solved B’Money prob: Book

The objectives may be “laudable” but demonetisation will not have solved the problem of black economy, says Prof Arun Kumar, an expert on black money, in his new book.

Kumar, who pegs India’s black economy at 62% of GDP or Rs 93 lakh crore at 2016-2017 prices, says that the programme was imposed on the country with “little or no forethought” subjected hundreds of millions of Indians, especially the poorest of the poor, to “unnecessary distress”.

In ‘Understanding the Black Economy and Black Money in India’ released recently, he says, “it must be understood that the black money the government was targeting is only about one per cent of the black wealth held in the country and only 3.5 per cent of the black income generated in 2016.”

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Arguing that even if the government managed to suck out all the black cash in circulation, he says, it would not have much effect on the black economy and It does not stop these activities from continuing. Moreover, 80% of the demonetised notes was not black money but rather white money used by businesses and citizens.

“It is unlikely that black marketeers and other generators of black money will suffer because the biggest fish were able to quickly convert whatever black cash they had into white…In other words, despite the massive exercise of demonetization, the total amount of black cash that has been demobilized is very small,” Kumar says.

At the same time, he says since demonetisation was announced, “unemployment has risen, investment has fallen, banks

are facing difficulties and the crisis in agriculture has been aggravated in spite of a good monsoon” and all this “leads to the emergence of recessionary conditions” in the economy.

Kumar also predicts that illegal activities, black markets and real estate scams, the production of spurious drugs, capitation fees

and various other components of the black economy “will carry on” after a brief hiatus.

Criticising the various governments’ voluntary income disclosure schemes, he says that all these programmes proved to be “counter-productive” and it shows a lack of imagination on the part of the authorities.

“No government has shown the necessary guts and will to tackle corrupt big businessmen, corrupt members of the executive and corrupt political leaders, especially those belonging to their own parties, without which the problem of the black economy will never be solved.

(Feb 14, 2017)

Rushdie fans’ wait for his new novel begins

For the Rushdie fans, here is the news you were waiting. The master storyteller Salman Rushdie’s new novel ‘The Golden House’, described as a “modern-day thriller”, is hitting the stands this September.

His thirteenth novel, celebrated by Indian publisher Penguin Random House India as his “finest”, is a “breathtaking one on a sprawling canvas”.

The Penguin Random House India, which acquired Indian subcontinent rights of the Rushdie novel from the Wylie Agency, said it follows a “mysteriously wealthy family” from Mumbai that is desperately seeking to forget the tragedy they left behind, as they feverishly reinvent themselves in New York City.

“Copiously detailed, sumptuously inventive, brimming with all the razzle-dazzle that imbues his fiction with the lush ambience of a fable, The Golden House is about where we were before 26/11, where we are today and how we got here. Here is a book that asks us – in a post-truth world – if facts and authenticity are necessarily the same thing, while never ceasing to be both resonant and entertaining,” it said.

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Rushdie’s offering will be a double delight for readers this year, as Arundhati Roy is also returning to the world of fiction with ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ in June this year. This will be Roy’s first work of fiction since ‘The God of Small Things’, which won the Booker Prize in 1997.

Meru Gokhale, Editor-in-Chief (Literary Publishing) at Penguin Random House India, said, “The Golden House is a masterclass on the confusing world we have brought upon ourselves. The book dissects the cultural and political vacuum in which a generation – whose frame of reference for globalisation has increasingly been coloured by conflict – must perform an intense balancing act. It is a terrific story, told at every step of the way with originality and nimble, impeccable plotting.”

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Feb 8, 2017)

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